Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hayyei Sarah I: Choosing Distinctiveness

ברך את אברהם [בכל] - להודיע האמור לפנינו שלא שלח עבדיו לקחת אשה ממשפחתו מחמת חוסר נשים בארץ כנען שלא יהו רוצין להזדווג לו, שהרי נתברך בכל וכל העולם מתאוים להזדווג לו, אבל הוא לא רצה כי אם ממשפחתו. וזהו שאמר העבד וי"י ברך את אדוני מאד ויגדל, ולכך הוצרך לפרש תחילה ברך את אברהם בכל. כמו וחם [הוא] אבי כנען:

Bereishit 24 opens with the intriguing phrase:וה' ברך את אברהם בכל —that God blessed Avraham with “everything.” Bava Batra 16b features a number of interesting interpretations that see this phrase as hinting at whether Avraham in fact had a daughter or not (with one view suggesting that he had a daughter that he actually named בכל!). These interpretations share an approach that sees this comment as somewhat disconnected from what follows. Rashbam, true to his attentiveness to the pattern of הקדמה, suggests that this passage is in fact intended to set up the next piece of the story—the search for a wife for Yitzhak.

Avraham, Rashbam argues, was among the most famous and beloved people in C’na’an (a fact that indeed seems borne out by the way בני חת treat him in chapter 23), and this is what is meant by his being blessed with “everything”. Canaanite women were lining up around the block for Yitzhak, and it was all Avraham could do to stick to his principles and find a wife for Yitzhak from his own clan.

Not only does this reading help tie the pieces together, but it makes even more poignant and powerful Avraham’s decision to choose distinctiveness in the context of such a welcoming culture. This is surely a lesson for contemporary American Jews; Rashbam’s comment here transforms Avraham from a lonely man standing apart in true faith from the rest of the world into a successful, beloved figure who knew that only he could take the necessary steps to ensure his own spiritual survival.

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